Together, Katherine Berry, Jean Bolivar, and Kate Sipe have over 70 years of teaching experience. So when Sister Schools realized that our Resource Centers weren’t operating as expected, we knew there was no better team to call. The trio first visited Uganda in 2016 to evaluate the Centers and determine the best way to support our Ugandan partners.
After ten years and building five Resource Centers, Sister Schools realized that we needed to provide more support at these partner schools. Katherine Berry, a music teacher at Fernwood Elementary School, spent several summers working in our Centers and providing them with that support. As she puts it, “if a generous donor dropped off twenty-five saxophones to my classroom, it would have felt great to the donor but they wouldn’t get used. I don’t know how to play or teach that instrument!” It’s the same with the thousands of books that Sister Schools had deposited in the Resource Centers.
In the US, you read books in order to further learn the language, which has so many parts: reading, writing, listening, speaking, etc. In Uganda, you only read books in English once you’re entirely literate. Teachers feel they need multiple copies of each text to which students will have access. Without being in full control of what kids are reading and how they’re understanding it, teachers don’t see reading as an inherently valuable experience – it must be fully assessed in order to be seen as a valuable way to spend time.
Sister Schools realized that we had solved the problem, yet were right back where we started. Once again, books were not getting into the hands of children. Just like before, the books were kept safely locked away from their intended recipients. Most had been put on the shelf years before and were never retrieved.
In July of 2016, Katherine along with colleagues Jean Bolivar of Echo Lake Elementary in Shoreline and Kate Sipe of Westgate Elementary in Edmonds departed for Uganda. Their mission was simple: evaluate the Resource Centers, determine why they weren’t being used to their full potential, and formulate an action plan.
Easier said than done.
The educators worked with teachers at each school and quickly determined that the first step was to organize the Centers. It was the clear that they functioned closer to museums of artifacts rather than vibrant community focal points. The team spent multiple days at each school, wiping off shelves and disposing of damaged books; Ugandan teachers stopped in to help as their schedules allowed. As hundreds of books came off the shelves at Kisowera Primary School, students gathered at the windows. There were more books than they had ever seen before! Even the teachers who helped were shocked – they didn’t know what they had at their own school. At the end of the day, there were too many to return to the shelves! Katherine, Jean, and Kate invited the students into the Resource Center – most had never set foot in it until that day – and let each of them take a book home with them.
When the team returned later that week, they were overjoyed to see classes of students in Kisowera’s Resource Center. Despite the lack of furniture, children were excited to have books in their hands. And just like that, the Literacy Training Program was born.